A Unique Presentation at the GLC Conference: Listening and Relationship Management Theory

A Unique Presentation at the GLC Conference: Listening and Relationship Management Theory

Associate Professor Gayle M. Pohl, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President (Education Policy),
Global Listening Centre. Associate Professor at University of Northern Iowa. USA

Public relations is a field where communication practitioners seek to employ a strategic communication process to build mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their public. A seminal theory central to the professional goals of public relations is relationship management theory. This theory posits that communication messages and organizational behaviors nurture and maintain mutually beneficial relationships (Ledingham and Bruning, 2000, p.87). Based on the experience of many public relations agencies around the world, the process of listening is fundamental to establishing mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and the public. Listening is not merely about receiving a response from a message source, but rather involves assessing and subsequently adapting to audience needs, goals, and wants. Using a comprehensive analysis and review of public relations agencies, the objective of this paper is to document how relationship management theory and the central process of listening, informs and enhances the goals of public relations. In the upcoming Global Listening Centre Convention, a study, “Adding Listening as an Explicit Dimension to Relationship Management Theory,” is presented that looks at the role of listening in the
relationship management theory.

Relationship Management theory holds that public relations maintains relations between an organization and its publics through the management of its organization-public relationships (Ledingham, 2003). These mutually beneficial relationships function to add listening to listening management theory, listening was defined by Beall (2008) as the cognitive component, where the listener processes the meaning of the message; metacognitive, where the listener assigns priority to different aspects of the message; and social, emotional, and relational where the listener perceives the message with an emphasis on style preference based on attitudes and beliefs. Listening style preferences are dependent on the who, what, when, where, and how of the information reception and encoding.

Some listening skills include: 1) prepare yourself to listen, 2) remove distractions, 3) empathize, 4) be patient when listening, 5) listen to the speaker’s tone, 6) listen for ideas, and 7) listen for non-verbals. Listen to enhance the message and the relationship between the listener and speaker.( Skills You Need: Helping You Develop the Skills You Need (n.d.) )

This information is then used to evaluate information given by public relations agencies and their use of listening with their clients. An internet review of ten public relations firms was conducted on their view of listening. Their view of listening was compared with dimensions of relationship management. Quotes from different agencies were compared to the various dimensions of the relationship management theory.

From the perspective of the stakeholders and audience(s) of organizations, relationships can predict the success or failure of a business. This viewpoint places public relations on a strategic management level because it can impact the way an audience supports (or doesn’t support) an organization’s goal. It is the relationships that the organization establishes and maintains with its audiences that allows it to succeed. Broom and Dozier (1990) and Ledingham (2003) hypothesized that levels of agreement between organizations and publics on key issues and the degree to which an organization and its key publics can accurately predict each other’s position can act as indicators of the relationship state. Ledingham and Bruning (1998b, 2006) named the dimensions of relationship management as trust, openness, involve- ment, investment, commitment, access, positiveness, assurance, networking, control mutuality, satisfaction, reciprocity, loyalty, customer satisfaction, public predisposition, sharing of tasks, community engagement, and maintenance strategies. Many, if not all these dimensions, require listening. The literature in public affairs, issue management, crisis management, and media relations. Ledingham and Bruning (1998b) define organization-public relationship as “the state which exists between an organization and its key publics, in which the actions of either can impact the economic, social, cultural, or political well-being of the other” (pg. 62). Subsequently, Ledingham and Bruning (1998b) operationalized five relevant dimensions: trust, openness, involvement, investment, and commitment. In that typology, trust is operationalized as an organization “doing what it says it will do” and openness is seen as “sharing the organization’s plans for the future with public members.” Involvement is described as “the organization being involved in the welfare of the community,” investment as “the organi- zation investing in the welfare of the community,” and commitment as “the organization being committed to the welfare of the community” (p. 62). Ledingham and Bruning then explored the link between those dimen- sions and public perceptions, attitudes, and choice behavior, finding public awareness of an organization’s support of community associated with a favorable predisposition toward that organization. Their research also demonstrates the value of relationships as a predictor of public predispositions (Ledingham & Bruning, 1998b), behavior (Ledingham & Bruning, 2000b), and satisfaction (Bruning & Ledingham, 1998a). Recently, Hon and J. E. Grunig (1999) offered strategies for maintaining organization–public relation- ships, including access, positiveness, openness, assurance, networking, and the sharing of tasks. In addition, they suggested control mutuality, trust, satisfaction, and commitment as organization–public relationship outcomes. Later, Ledingham and Bruning added loyalty and customer satisfaction as dimensions too (1998a, 1998b).

defines listening as a cognitive function that interprets incoming messages within a given context or situation.
Quotes from a sample of 10 different public relations agencies show that listening is essential for public relations and the establishment and maintenance of relationships with targeted audiences. Effective, active listening is vital to learn about the audience and to understand the attitudes and feelings of that audience. Representatives from these agencies spoke about listening elements and then a coordinating relationship management dimension(s) is identified in the presentation.
Given the natural pairing of relationship management dimensions with listening components, it appears that listening should be considered as a dimension of the relation management theory. It is, after all, an essential component to any relationship!
This is a fascinating presentation. One that is not to be missed. (Even if I say so myself  )
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Skills You Need: Helping You Develop the Skills You Need (n.d.) (https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/listeningprinciples.html? msclkid=fcd030f3d0a911ec8b11174d2d2533c8) Retrieved May 12, 2022.

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